Nesting Boxes For Hens: How Big, How Many and Where to Put Them

Learn how to choose the best nesting boxes for your chickens to maximize egg production and keep your chickens happy.   

Title Chicken Nesting Boxes - Everything you need to know to have happy productive hens with red chicken in box with freshly laid eggs

The design of your hens’ nesting boxes is important to keep the eggs clean, safe, and easy for you to find. Some hens are not particular where they will lay eggs. They will lay them in any location they feel relatively safe, which could be anywhere in the chicken coop. You don’t want to go on an egg hunt each morning or run the risk of the eggs getting trampled on or damaged. 

We’ll walk through all the essential points to consider when choosing the perfect nesting boxes for your hens. 

Chicken Nesting Box Size

The standard size of a chicken nesting box is twelve inches long by twelve inches wide. This is a good size for most laying chickens. The height of the nesting box can range from twelve to sixteen inches tall based on the size of your chickens.

When determining the correct chicken nesting box dimensions, the important factor is that they should be small enough that the chicken feels safe but still big enough for them to turn around and stand up. So for larger birds, it is more important that the box be taller rather than wider. 

chicken inside nesting box laying an egg

A good size for a larger laying hen like the Jersey Giants or Brahmas would be 12x12x14 or 12x12x16. You can also leave the top open. Many chickens like to stand up as they release the egg. 

You can increase the size to 14 inches for these bigger ladies, but most hens prefer a snugger fit for laying. The one exception is the girls who like to lay together. In this case, you can add one or larger boxes to accommodate them. 

If your hens are on the petite side, you can reduce the size. But they should be no smaller than ten inches wide.

How Many Nesting Boxes Per Chicken?

The number of nesting boxes for chickens depends on the size of the flock. The ideal ratio is one nesting box for every four hens. 

The 4:1 ratio is a slightly sliding scale based on the size of your flock. You can provide fewer boxes for larger flocks (up to 5 hens per box). But if you only have four hens, then provide at least two nesting boxes. 

If you have a lot of young chickens or occasionally add new chickens to your flock, you may choose to provide a few extra boxes. This ensures everyone has enough room to be comfortable and reduces the chance the newer birds are intimidated, but typically everyone gets along just fine after a short transition period. 

Therefore, you need to encourage them and ensure that the nesting box is secured and a comfortable place to lay their eggs.

black and white chicken nesting in hay

Are All Chicken Nesting Boxes Square?

A nesting box is not necessarily square in shape. In fact, the shape doesn’t matter as long as it has enough space to contain and secure the eggs and the hen.

It’s also better if the nesting box is not that complicated, as it will be difficult for you to clean it – the easier and simpler the type, the better.

Nesting Box Placement

Position your nesting boxes in a sheltered, quiet location, away from foot traffic and the main roosting area. 

Inside the coop, the boxes should be in a quiet corner away from the entrance when the chickens can relax and feel safe. A slightly shaded or darker corner is preferred. You can add curtains for additional privacy if you choose.

Outside the chicken coop, make sure the nesting boxes are protected from direct sunlight, wind, and rain. Sudden changes in temperature, such as highs during the day or sudden low temperatures at night, can affect the eggs. Locate them on the quietest side of the coop, away from the hustle and bustle of the farm. 

Nesting Box Height

The nesting box should at least 18 inches from the ground. You can place them higher. Many chicken owners like to put the boxes at an accessible height to retrieve the eggs without bending over. Just don’t make them so high they fly up to seek protection.

The height of the roosting area should always be higher than the nesting area. Chickens seem to want to find the highest place to sleep, and you’ll want to discourage the hens from sleeping in or near the boxes. This keeps the boxes cleaner and prevents your eggs from getting contaminated. Locating the roosts on the opposite end of the coop from the nesting area is good practice if you have the room.

 What If The Chickens Are Sleeping On The Nesting Boxes?

Occasionally, your chickens will start roosting on top of the nesting box. This should always be discouraged. Here are a few ways to prevent your chickens from sleeping on the boxes. 

  1. If you are still in the design phase of your project, create a slanted roof on top of the nesting area. If the design is complete, you can mount a board at a steep angle along the back wall. That should do the trick. 
  2. You can also try adding a slippery surface to the top, making it hard for the chickens to perch. Plexiglass can work well here. 
  3. Add additional roosting options away from the nesting area. The chickens may not have enough roosting perches.

Nesting Box Materials (Inside and Out)

Chicken nesting boxes can be made from any material that is sturdy and easy to keep clean. The most common materials are wood and plastic or metal.

Wood nesting boxes are easy to build and you can customize them to any size needed. Plastic nesting boxes are lighter in weight and very easy to clean. Metal boxes are also easier to clean than wood but are not as warm as plastic or wood. So if you live in a colder climate, you’ll want to factor this into your decision.

Here is an example of a plastic nesting box available from tractor supply. It can be mounted to the wall of your chicken coop and is large enough to fit the bigger hens. 

The dimensions of this box are: 16.5″ L x 15.88″ W x 19.75″ H. The box is larger than most, but the smaller entrance makes the chicken feel secure. And it is tall enough, so she will have plenty of room to stand up.

The same company makes an open-style nesting box, so your girls can hop in and hop out as they choose!

Chicken laying an egg inside a plastic nesting box
The Little Giant Plastic Nesting Box available @ Tractor Supply

What Materials Should Be Put Inside Chicken Nesting Boxes?

When choosing a nesting material, keep in mind the purpose of the nesting box; to protect the eggs from any damage or harm that might occur. You want a comforting material that won’t harm the eggs. 

The most popular chicken nesting box material is hay or straw. The benefits for using this type of bedding are: 

  • Fluffy and has lots of airspaces
  • Gentle on the eggs
  • Easy to Clean
  • Relatively Cheap
  • Cost-efficient
three wooden chicken nesting boxes filled with shavings and a metal tin roof

However, there are a few potential problems to look out for

  1. Your hens may brush the straw to the side and create a hole in the center, causing the eggs to be damaged. The solution is to put a rubber or soft mat or soft material like fabric on the bottom of the nesting box. 
  2. Some hens love to kick all the materials out of the box. In this case, try making the lip to the nesting box taller. Increasing the height of 1-2 inches usually does the trick. 

Other options for nesting material include shavings of pine or cedar. You can also try to put dry leaves, shredded paper, or you can buy a nesting pad. These will make the nesting box look more inviting to the chickens. 

Common Problems With Nesting Boxes

How do you get the chickens to lay their eggs in the boxes?

Younger chickens that are just learning how to use a nesting box can be a problem. Here are a few tips to help encourage the hens to lay eggs inside the box. 

  • Keep the nesting material fresh. Clean it every day after you collect the eggs. 
  • Double-check the size and location of the boxes. You could try a quieter location, adding a little curtain for privacy, using a larger (or smaller size) or different height. Try out some of the DIY boxes below to experiment with different sizes and locations before making any big changes. 
  • Place an egg in each nesting box. Chickens have a natural instinct to want to sit on eggs when they see one. 

For this to work, first, mark the egg with a pencil, so you know which one it is. The following day when you collect the eggs, take out the marked ones & any fresh eggs. Leave one egg inside the box, mark it again with a pencil, and repeat the process, so you take out the older eggs first.

After a week or two, your hens will get the idea and start laying eggs inside the boxes on their own. 

seven brown chicken eggs in the middle of straw

What if your chickens are eating the eggs?

Don’t leave the eggs in the boxes too long. Not only will this keep the eggs clean, but it can prevent accidentally cracking with too many eggs are in the box. 

This happens because the chicken sees something on the egg like a small bug or dirt spec they think is food. By keeping the nesting box clean, this is less likely to happen. 

Also, provide enough access to feed. An automatic feeder can be placed inside the coop. If they are hungry & can’t find anything to eat, they might go to the eggs for a meal.

Transparent or Thin Eggs

This is probably due to the quality of the feed or the age of the chicken. 

Get a good feed with enough calcium in it. You can supplement with crushed limestone or oyster shells if you are making your feed mix. Some young chickens that have just started laying eggs can have this problem. Look for feeds with an “egg-layer” mix with a limestone or calcium product. 

DIY Nesting Boxes – Some Easy Cheap Options To Get Started

If you are just starting out or are handy and want to make your own homemade nesting boxes, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are some simple tips for creating DIY boxes:

Milkcrates

Plastic milkcrates make a great inexpensive nesting box. The size is just about right, they are inexpensive and easy to clean. With a few minor modifaction, they can last a long time.

You’ll need something on the bottom to act as a floor to keep the hay inside. Floor tiles, a folded piece of burlap, or a square piece of plywood all work fine. Then attach a board to the front of the box so the eggs don’t roll out.

Used Cardboard Boxes

This is only for temporary purposes, as it might be easily destroyed, but can work in a pinch. If there are unused boxes inside your house that are large enough to accommodate the size of your chickens, they make a great short-term solution. Just make sure that the bottom of the box is sturdy enough to handle the chicken and for the eggs not to come out. 

Wood Nesting Boxes

If you can operating a saw and hammer a few nails, you can make your own wooden nesting boxes from plywood or pallets. A lot of owners choose this as it is sturdy. You can also hire a local handyman to make a few nesting boxes made of wood. Small wooden crates, craft boxes, or even a narrow drawer are good options if your building skills are limited.

Large Plastic Bowls or Containers 

You can use any large plastic bowl or containers as long as the size can contain the chicken. That way, you won’t need to spend any money, and at the same time, you can re-use those bowls or containers. 

Barrel, Bucket, or Gallon Containers

If you have an empty bucket or barrel, you can turn those into nesting boxes. You can simply put their body down and use it as the chicken’s entrance. A round bucket or gallon made of plastic can be slippery and unstable.

You can use heavy objects (such as rocks) to anchor them in place and prevent them from rolling. You can also cut the body in half, especially if the barrel or gallon is tall. 

Using simple recycled items like this for a nesting box is a great way to try out different locations and sizes for your hens. Especially if you have a few that like to lay their eggs on the floor of the chicken coop.

Once you decided what you will use as a nesting box, you can set it up inside the chicken’s coop/house and put the necessary materials inside it to make it comfortable for your chickens. 

Ready-Made Boxes

If you prefer a store-bought solution, there are plenty of options. Tractor supply is our go-to store for chicken-keeping supplies. Choose from plastic, metal, or wooden boxes.

If you want that personal touch, but don’t like to build, Etsy has some beautiful nesting boxes made by local craftsmen.

Summary

The design, size, and location of your chickens’ nesting boxes are an essential part of keeping your chickens happy and productive. 

When you give them a comforting, clean nesting area, they will produce plenty of eggs to feed your whole family & maybe even enough to share them with your neighbors! 

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